Toronto Maple Leafs Should Begin Negotiating with Defencemen

BOSTON, MA - (Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - (Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

The Toronto Maple Leafs are in a bind trying to fit everyone into the cap. They need to plan early and get defensemen signed beyond this season.

The Toronto Maple Leafs and general manager Kyle Dubas have been active this offseason.

They made moves that suggest the team is focused on two areas. They want to strengthen the defensive core and shed salary.

There is a lot to like from all the Toronto Maple Leafs’ offseason transactions thus far. They have cleared cap space and acquired quality talent. However, there is an important question that looms; how will Dubas keep his players beyond this season?

Signing Pending UFAs

The Leafs made their biggest splash of the offseason when they swung a deal with the Colorado Avalanche. At the expense of Nazem Kadri and Calle Rosen, they acquired Tyson Barrie and Alexander Kerfoot. It’s an exchange that will help improve the Buds’ blueline.

The jewel in that swap was Tyson Barrie. He is an offensive defenseman who could slot into the top pairing. With 14 goals and 45 assists, he was seventh in the league among defensemen with a total of 59 points last season.

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Barrie will be paid $5.5 million this year. He gets added to a group of blueliners who too are cashing big cheques.

Cody Ceci was the return from the Ottawa Senators for Connor Brown and Nikita Zaitsev. Ceci is earning $4.5 million this year after agreeing to a one-year deal.

The Toronto Maple Leafs also gave up a big package to acquire Jake Muzzin prior to last season’s trade deadline. He will be paid $4 million for this coming campaign. All three of these defensemen are on expiring deals.

In fact, nearly the entire team’s defence group (if you don’t count the players who may make the team out of the AHL) become free agents at season’s end. Only Morgan Rielly is locked in beyond this coming year. This puts Dubas in a very difficult position.

Thanks to the large contracts being paid to the Leafs’ stars, with the potential of Mitch Marner also earning eight figures, there is little wiggle room to retain valuable assets.

This is why Jake Gardiner could be joining another organization prior to puck drop in October. It also means that the big trades that Dubas forged could result in a short term return.

There is a risk that because of cap space, over the span of three seasons, the Leafs may allow James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak, Jake Gardiner, Barrie, and Muzzin to all depart with no return.

Though already busy negotiating with Marner’s representation, the Toronto Maple Leafs will need to begin to focus long term. Dubas cannot struggle with player retention year after year if he hopes to have a successful team. As such, he must begin trying to strike deals with his top defensemen.

The most challenging player to retain will be Barrie. Players of his skill set are getting big money. Khris Letang, who had three fewer points than Barrie, will be earning $7.25 million for the season. Victor Hedman, who had five fewer points will make $8 million this year. If Barrie can match or exceed his current output this coming season then he could be making north of those numbers.

That is why the Toronto Maple Leafs should be in negotiations right now.

Waiting until season’s end to draft new contracts has not worked out in the club’s favour for players like Austin Matthews, William Nylander, and potentially Marner.

The Leafs should already have opened a dialogue with Barrie and Muzzin’s agents. If there is a chance that the team can lock in this pair or any other defensemen they have identified to be valued members of the franchise, they should be trying to find figures that work for all parties.

dark. Next. How the Leafs can still sign Marner and Gardiner

The salary cap will continue to make personnel decisions difficult so hopefully, the Toronto Maple Leafs will be proactive this summer. Perhaps a new approach to free agency by Dubas is exactly what the Leafs need if they want to retain their d-men.